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In this piece, I examine the immigration enforcement and adjudication system as a whole from the perspective of life and death. Drawing upon social theory frames as well as legal scholarship, I look to how doctrines and laws continually devalue and risk noncitizens’ lives. Although scholarly work has examined how differing aspects of immigration law and enforcement take lives—e.g., via detention, cross-border shootings, and deportation— explorations have yet to consider the system as a whole from this perspective.

My contribution illuminates how laws as well as legal doctrines serve as mechanisms for assigning differential value to human life, ultimately taking immigrants’ lives. They do so in part by normalizing death as the inevitable cost of upholding the rule of law. And yet, there is nothing normal or inevitable about the myriad policy choices, statutory provisions, and evacuations of constitutional protection that undergird immigration law and enforcement. These choices form an architecture that, in the words of Achille Mbembe, “subjugate(s) life to the power of death.”1 I consider death by design, death by enforcement, death by denial, and death by expulsion—then show how jurisprudence and laws accept and contribute to these deaths. In the final sections of my paper, I consider how we might dismantle the assumptions, laws, doctrines that devalue and take noncitizen life throughout our immigration system.